Amarillo, TX - An outbreak of a deadly canine disease called distemper that started this summer is now escalating into a much bigger problem.
Distemper was once nonexistent in our area and now one local veterinarian said he has seen about 200 cases since June. The incurable disease is causing problems for both pet owners and organizations that promote adoptions within the community, which is why they are calling for action.
"Yesterday we saw 10 positive cases. We're probably seeing 10 to 15 a week," said Dr. David Faulkner at Hope Veterinary Clinic. "For a long time, we rarely saw distemper. It's becoming a big problem."
Dr. Faulkner said the majority of dogs coming into his clinic were recently adopted from the Amarillo animal shelter but said it is also rampant in the community. "Bless the city's heart, people will dump the dogs at the pound. If there is one case that comes in, every dog there gets exposed."
Infected dogs pose a danger because the virus is airborne and highly contagious.
The Texas Panhandle Pet Savers recently lost 28 dogs to the disease and about half of them were pulled from the shelter. "Animals come into the shelter with this disease and it takes several weeks for the symptoms to show and so we do pull animals that do end up getting sick," said Andrea Gulley with TPPS. "It certainly makes it difficult from a financial perspective and an emotional perspective. We invest a lot of time and energy into animals, and when we lose them to illness it's very difficult."
Gulley went to the city council meeting Tuesday to voice her concern and bring awareness about the growing problem of distemper in our community.
"We clearly have to react to that," said council member Brian Eades. "I have to visit with senior city staff and fellow council members and decide what kind of plan to put in place, but I'm going to suggest that we develop a strike team to research this issue and talk to the newly appointed Animal Management and Welfare director and see if we can implement something before he arrives here on the scene. I'm just going to have to start this process first thing in the morning."
In the meantime, there are steps pet owners can take to protect their pets and reduce the disease from spreading. "The most important thing for any pet owner is to make sure their animal is vaccinated and fully vaccinated so they have all the shots they truly need," said Gulley. "Also, make sure if you have a puppy or an animal who doesn't have all their shots yet not to take them out in public. These diseases do spread very easily so it is critical not to take your animal to stores, to parks or anywhere they might pick up the disease until they have all their vaccinations."
The major symptoms of distemper include high fever, reddened eyes and a watery discharge from the nose and eyes. An infected dog will become lethargic, tired and will sometimes stop eating. Persistent coughing, vomiting and diarrhea may also occur. The virus can also attack a dog's nervous system, causing fits, seizures, paralysis and attacks of hysteria.
Since there is a not a cure for distemper, veterinarians can only treat the symptoms and even then the disease can still be fatal.